Monday, 11 August 2014

How does Your Mindfulness Smell?

Smells - I'm sensitive to them. I used to be plagued by regular severe migraines and strong smells, either pleasant or not, could trigger them for me. Since I've been practising mindfulness and managing my life stresses more effectively through DBT skills, I have found that I am only suffering migraines about two or three times a year. As a result I am re-acquainting myself with the power of smell. I am learning not to fear this neglected sense.


When I started practising mindfulness I would focus on sound, sight, touch and taste. It's easy to focus on really enjoying the touch, sight and taste of chocolate, for example. I can really savour the moment, taking my time to taste and enjoy the melting, soothing flavours. But how often do I stop once I have unwrapped it to really absorb its smell? I've been slower to first notice and then learn to practice smell as a mindful practise. Yet, along with listening to music, this is probably the most evocative and vivid of my senses. Who can resist the smell of cooking bacon? There is a reason why supermarkets pipe the smell of freshly baked breads. Even more unpleasant smells can bring us quickly into the present. The 'country' smell of manure definitely grounds me in terms of where I am, geographically.

As I have developed my awareness of the world around me and my own experience of the present moment, I have found myself building up a bank of smells which have different emotional impacts for me:

1. The smell of freshly ground coffee beans. This smell has become part of my daily morning rituals. I find I am beginning to be
able to detect different 'nuances' in different blends and roasts of coffee beans. I am drinking less alcohol than I used to, so freshly brewed coffee from freshly ground beans has become one of my regular luxuries. It is an important part of my self soothe routines. It also helps when I am finding myself facing overwhelming feelings of grief. I get a bag of fresh coffee beans from the freezer (best for keeping that freshness) and I stand and inhale the gorgeous aroma. This also benefits me because it is another way for me to practise mindful breathing whilst combining it with self soothe skills. I also love the smell of the fresh brew when I return to my house - it is definitely better than some of the rancid smells that used to greet me when I was too overwhelmed to care about myself or my environment. As I have recovered smells in the house are an important indicator of how much I am caring for myself and my home.

2. The smell of grass in the summer. For a long time this was a problematic smell for me as my Dad was a landscaper and the smell of freshly cut grass mixed with oil, became an ambiguous scent for me, evoking some unpleasant feelings. Now, though, it is part of the freshness of spring and summer. As I am learning to leave my fear of these seasons behind (I think these times of year seemed to be times when I was more vulnerable for reasons I have never explored) I am learning to really savour the smells of summer plants and water, like rivers through woods etc.

3. Citrus smells. There is nothing better for making me feel fresh and clean, than the smell of lemons, oranges and limes - preferably fresh ones. I can just cut a lemon in half and stick my nose right in and really inhale - way to go in getting me awake!

4. The smell of my dog and cat when I snuggle my face into their (dry) coats - it is safe physical affection and the warmth of the touch along with the smell just reeks of comfort. My dog is just the right size for me to lie beside and envelope her in my arms, whilst burying my face in her wonderful furry coat. I need to feel safe with touch and my pets are helping me to enjoy the safe touch and smell of another creature.

5. The smell of my favourite 'smellies'. I love perfumes, soaps and bubble baths. My favourite shower creams and gels are usually from aromatherapy ranges and I love standing in the shower enjoying the smells of my soaps and shower gels. I have always worn perfumes and love that blast of aroma through the day as I move about. It is a pleasant reminder of self soothing baths and showers, again a good way to practice self care.

Other smells I love: fresh cotton sheets, shirts; fish and chips; curries; any Mediterranean cooking smells; nutmeg; all spice; Vimto; melons; fresh paint (yes, paint); the sea;

Of course the sense of smell is most powerful when it is combined with the other senses. Touch and taste in particular enhance my experience of smells and help me to be mindful in my experience of smell.

So go on, get your olfactory juices flowing and really stick your nose into some things that are just passing you by at the moment. You might find yourself rediscovering some old 'friends' along the way.